Archive for May, 2008
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
“The ‘knowledge of God’s will’ is more than simply an insight into how God wants his people to behave: it is an understanding of God’s whole saving purpose in Christ, and hence a knowledge of God himself.’ (NT Wright, p 57)
“For a theist who believes that God’s active purpose determines the ordering of the world, lies behind events on earth, and shapes their consequences, one of the most desirable objectives must be to know God’s will. The corollary, spelled out in the following phrases, is that such knowledge gives insight into and therefore reassurance regarding what happens (often unexpected in human perspective) and helps direct human conduct to accord with that will.” (James Dunn)
‘For this reason’ means something like, ‘because of what I have just said, thus…’. It means Paul had just given reasons for his actions on their behalf, namely, his constant prayers for them. Paul has taken time to reflect on the circumstances of the Christians in Colossae. He has noted that these are people marked by a peculiar love who have been forged in a hostile environment, who have been created by the Gospel. These are people who are like and not like the world. They have dual citizenship: They live in Christ and in Colossae. This unique living arrangement has its own unique set of problems that the apostle insists the Colossians can survive. In fact, he seems to be of the particular opinion that not only will they survive but they will also thrive: They, like the Gospel, will (and must!) bear fruit and grow (see verses 6 & 10).
But his constant prayers, it seems to me, are not merely some form of congratulations or some form of ‘hey I hope these get you through the night and day.’ If Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians it was not necessarily for their moral character or their physical well-being or that they would have some profound philosophical insight into their circumstances or even that they would have wisdom to make ‘hard decisions concerning life’. His prayers carried with them certain specific, precise, and unambiguous goals. This is not to say that the aforementioned categories are wrong or unnecessary or that they should be neglected. To be sure, they have their place as Jesus taught us to pray, “Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…” God’s kingdom people, shaped and formed, expanded and contracted as we are by the person of Jesus, cannot begin to function apart from grounding all aspects of our lives in prayer.
Thus he says, “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God…” Where does our ‘knowledge of the will of God’ come from? This knowledge that Paul is praying for must be the sort of knowledge that comes from some place outside of themselves. And neither is he content that this filling be fleeting or partial. I sense that he desires this knowledge to be complete. There is a divine element here: Paul is not praying for them just any kind of knowledge or wisdom or understanding. Paul is praying for a deep interaction between their brains and the Spirit of God. How else can we properly know the will of God unless it is God who gives us clarity? So he is constantly ‘asking God’ to fill them (for the important motif of fill/fullness in Colossians see 1:9, 19, 24, 25; 2:2, 9, 10; 4:12, 17.)
I think it is significant what Paul prays that they might be filled with. We often asked to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit; Paul prays that the Spirit will fill them with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. In other words, it is not just some spiritual experience that Paul is praying for the Colossians, but rather he is praying for the working of the Spirit in their lives. He wants them to experience the Spirit’s work which is itself a spiritual experience. I can see that, to an extent, a mere filling of the Spirit, progressing to some euphoric experience, could possibly be rather meaningless. But what about being filled with the fruit of the Spirit (Knowledge, wisdom, understanding) so that we might understand the will of God? And if we understand the will of God is this not a ‘Spiritual experience’? Note also the passive nature of the verb ‘to fill:’ we can seek it, but it is God’s prerogative to fill. This is why Paul is constantly praying and asking God to do just that.
Again I have to note that his prayer in this respect is most significant: knowledge of the will of God. This knowledge will be demonstrated in all, spiritual wisdom and understanding. ‘All’ and ‘spiritual’ govern both nouns: ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding.’ In all things the will of God is to be determinative and it is fill us. Not an aspect of our lives is to be lived or thought apart from the will of God. However,
The reason so many Christian’s lives are messed up is because they did not take the time and do the work to discover God’s will for them. If you want to avoid life’s hardships, wrong turns and missteps, then I strongly advise you to find out what God’s will is for your life. (Here)
This is naïve at best. Knowing the will of God in our lives does not prevent hardships, wrong turns and missteps. Nor is the will of God something that we have to ‘find out’ about; the will of God is what God fills us with. There is a profound difference between ‘knowing about’ and being ‘filled with’ something. I defy this silly notion that we have to be slaving away on some great quest to know what God wants us to do or be in life. He has told us what we must ‘do,’ he has demonstrated to us what he expects, and he has shown us the steps he took to make that will known and efficacious. Frankly, the mystery is part of the adventure. Finally, the will of God is not something that is merely ‘for your life.’ The will of God, it seems to me, is far more comprehensive and expansive than the simple things in life that are summed up in one person’s daily decisions. There is a will for our lives but that will is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Our faith rests not in making every choice correctly, which is a dangerous and false doctrine called perfectionism, but in trusting the One who qualifies us (12) and rescues us (13) and redeems us (14) even when we make the wrong choices.
What we must not do, however, is assume here that Paul is constantly praying that God reveal his will for them in the sense that he wants God to tell them what step to take today, what road to travel tomorrow, or what highway to avoid on Friday. It’s not that he is asking God to show them which path to take in order that they can avoid hardships, wrong turns, and missteps. He is rather praying and asking that they will know God’s will which reassures, guards, and protects them regardless of how many missteps they take or hardships they encounter. Christianity is a combination of two lives lived: In Christ and in Colossae. Too many people, Christians foremost among them, wrongly assume that knowing the will of God is equivalent to ‘having all the right answers.’ It is not. I don’t think it is designed to either. Knowing the will of God, being filled with the will of God, means that we are filled with the strength, wisdom, understanding, and motivation to live our lives according to God’s purposes for all life in Christ. Being filled with knowledge of God’s will means having the singular focus of living for God’s purposes in life as opposed to our own.
Filled with the knowledge of God’s will is closely akin to ‘growing in the knowledge of God’ (v 10). What is the end? Well, it is actually several-fold and I will unpack these in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say that when we are fully in tune, constantly reminded of, and always anticipating God’s will in our lives we will a) live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way and bear fruit and grow in knowledge of him (10); b) be strengthened so that we might have great endurance and patience (11); c) give thanks to the Father (12). Knowing God’s will for us in Christ even while we live in Colossae gives us the courage we need to ‘walk about’ (‘live a life worthy’) in a manner that pleases Him in every way. This all, in other words, has something to do with our sanctification in Christ which is an ongoing process that will not culminate until death or the return of Christ.
I wonder if the Colossians were surprised at the contents of Paul’s prayer for them? He doesn’t pray that they will be magically shielded from all sorts of dangers. He doesn’t call down curses on the heads of the so-called ‘visitors.’ He doesn’t pray that God will heal them of all physical maladies and ailments. He doesn’t even pray that they will be protected from danger while they reside in Colossae. Instead, he prays simply that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, that no part of their existence would be left unscathed by his purposes, that they, like water jars filled to the brim with water (see John 2:7) would have no room left in their lives for the will of anyone or anything else. Filled. Completely.
I suppose it would shock most Christians if the preacher came to their hospital bedside and began to pray something like this, but here we see the ordering of priorities in church prayers: What matters? Does sickness and difficulty in life matter? Yes. Should we pray about it? Yes. The real question is not, however, if we should pray about such things but rather what are we going to pray about such things? If we have prayed that God fill us with the knowledge of His will, and He does it, then is there anything else left to pray about at all? I wonder if the church, as naïve as this may sound, can be content with a prayer the content of which is merely “I pray you are filled with the knowledge of His will.” If we are filled with His will then there is no room left not even for our own.
Join me in praying for and suffering with the Steven Curtis Chapman family in their time of grief.
Mr Chapman’s music has touched many lives, and the work he and his wife have done for orphans is a remarkable testimony to the love of Christ in their lives. I join with the thousands of others in and around the Christian community who will pray for and mourn with this family.
Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Lord give courage to this family and strengthen them by the presence of your Spirit. Comfort them Lord by the presence of friends and family. Love them Lord through the powerful name of Christ our Lord. May they know your compassion. And as they have touched and encouraged and strengthened so many through their ministry, now Lord may they be comforted with the comfort we have received from them. May your grace be a minister to them Lord in this day and hour and for the days to come. Lord we praise you and bless you for the grace that comes from Christ.
O Lord, we cry for mercy! We cry for grace! Lord let our tears be mingled with theirs and our prayers rise before you as an offering. There are no answers for these situations and I do not understand, how much less the family! O Lord, we cry out in despair and yet we trust you Lord for we are those who do not mourn as the rest. For we are counted among those who have trusted in your grace. I thank you Lord for the Chapman family and for the glory they have brought to your Name. I pray Lord, in Jesus’ name, that you will remember them. Heal them Lord. And someday, Lord, according to your mercy, return the music to their hearts and mouths. Better, don’t let the music depart.
In Jesus’ Name.
Someone hit an old post I did on a Kutless song. This prompted me to hit the Kutless website (see blogroll). When I got there–surprise!–free music. The song is called The Feeling from their forthcoming CD “To Know That You’re Alive.” It’s a .zip file that unpacks into a 2:24 mp3. It’s rather short, but it is heavy. I think you’ll like it. There’s a short (2 or 3 lines) form to fill out at the link. Takes about 2 minutes. Great song from a great band.
A preacher friend of mine, Dave who serves in Indiana and also writes A Pastor’s Prayer Journey with me, and his friend Sam, are heading up a project called The Amazing 80. This is a project to raise $80,000 in order to build a multi-purpose building in Liberia, Africa. The building will be used as a school, church, and a center for clean water. You can go to Godtube.com and search for Amazing 80 and see a couple of videos on the project. You can also click Amazing 80 for more information directly from Dave and Sam.
Do what you can to involve yourself in this project and to share the news of this work that God has placed on Dave’s and Sam’s hearts. If you have any questions, contact Dave or Sam at the above link. They are most helpful.
This photo was taken by a friend of mine named Liz.
When she told me she had taken it, I asked for a copy and she gave. It looks exactly the way I thought it would.
Grace is not merely something they heard about and signed up for. Rather, it was something they understood. They made an intellectual, cognizant decision to participate in the grace of God. It was something that was preached to them as truth, it was something they believed, it was something they comprehended, it was something they accepted and believed, and it was something they incorporated and practiced in their lives as believers in Christ. What defines us as Christians is not the mistaken idea that we have all the answers to life’s questions but rather that we are a people full of all sorts of questions. We have found the world’s answers lacking; we find grace filling. And this grace compels us, moves us, changes us. It causes us to love in ways we never imagined possible a people we could never get close enough to under our normal circumstances. Grace has that sort of power to enable us to love the unlovely, the unlovable, and the unloving. The irony is that God doesn’t even wait for us to go to ‘them’. Instead, he brings us all together in one place (‘in Colossae’) and plants us in one person (‘in Christ’). There, in Christ in Colossae, we learn how to love.
So love works itself outward towards others. In the context of the church: it IS worth talking about, love, that is. Jesus made it clear that when others see our love for one another demonstrated they would know beyond doubt that we belong to Him. And it is probably possible that the sort of love Paul is talking about is only possible within the context of congregation of grace, empowered by the Truth, and filled with the Spirit. If he mentions earlier that we are ‘in Christ,’ here he mentions that we are no less ‘in the Spirit.’ This prompts Dunn to write, “The love that mirrors the love of God in Christ can only be aroused and sustained by the Spirit of God. The phrase carries overtones of an inspiration that wells up from within, charismatically enabled, and that depends on continued openness to the Spirit if its quality of unselfish service of others is to be maintained.” (65)
This is what was being demonstrated at Colossae: A love for one another because of Christ and in the Spirit.
Sadly, Christians are known more for what they are against than for what they are for. We Christians make it impossible for ‘sinners’ to get near us not because we put up fences or walls or traps (even though we do!) but rather because we fail to love one another. Instead, we hold up placards denouncing one another, judging those for whom Christ has died, lambasting those who might otherwise have a heart or an ear towards the Gospel. In my estimation, the greatest single cause of unbelief in this world today, is the church because for all the church’s talk about love and compassion to the world at large, we fail to love one another sacrificially in the way Christ would have us to. Give away all the food you want, but who wants to be a part of a group that cannot love one another? No one will convince me that the proliferation of judgment ministries around the country via the Internet, radio, television is doing anything to attract people to the Gospel of God’s grace. Those ministries are not protecting the Gospel, they are cheapening it. Those ministries are not protecting the ‘saints,’ they are pushing away the ‘sinners.’
I am always amused by this story from Mark’s Gospel:
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39″Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 8:38-41, NIV)
Or the Message:
38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” 39-41Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.
In our world, doing something in the Name of Jesus is not enough any longer. Nowadays, if it is not done in a manner prescribed by someone else (see my post on ‘modern gnostics’) then it is just not enough, not good enough, not holy enough. Nowadays in the church, love in the Name of Jesus is the last thing we ask of or see when we are considering someone else’s faith in Christ or their work in the kingdom. But this is what Jesus said: “Do not stop him.” Jesus told us not to stop the person doing something in His Name. Our problem is that we tend to act like his Name is somehow our name and that we must protect our name from any stains and blemishes that those a little less sanctified might taint it with. Love gets thrown aside, grace is cast out, in favor of protecting something that even Jesus didn’t protect (that is, he did not retain the exclusive rights to usage; he was happy that love and grace were abounding when power was recognized.) I suspect that those who used his Name knew about love and grace and had a burning passion to demonstrate it in the only Name that they could: Jesus’ Name. Thus, “Don’t stop them.” Jesus did not seem too concerned, did he? (This isn’t to say that every use of the Name of Jesus is righteous or valid or blessed. This isn’t to say that we should ‘take the Lord’s Name in vain’ which means a lot more than just uttering a curse when we hit our thumb with a hammer.)
My point is this: If Epaphras told Paul about the love the Colossians had in the Spirit then it seems rather clear to me that this was something Epaphras saw with his eyes. I do not imagine a scenario where Epaphras conducted interviews: “Well tell me, member of the Colossian church, do you love in the Spirit?” No. I imagine a scenario where this love was visibly demonstrated before his eyes. He saw it and when he told the apostle about it, it was no mere, “Oh, and by the way, they love in the Spirit.” I imagine an enthusiastic, ebullient, child-like explosion of, “Oh you cannot imagine how much they love! I saw it all over the place! It was everywhere! They withheld their love from no one! They love Christ the Lord! They love one another! They love their neighbors! Husbands love wives! Wives love husbands! Children love parents and parents children! You cannot imagine the love these people have!”
It’s that, isn’t it? He doesn’t specify who or what they were loving in the Spirit. It just says, “your love in the Spirit.” Truth be told, does it matter? Our love is not something we have to brag about to others, but if we love like Scripture says we should then it will be visible to others. “By this will the world know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why? Because the world will see our love being demonstrated. Would that the Body of Christ could be marked by our love in the Spirit instead of marred by our hate and contempt.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–If you would like to more fully appreciate what I have written here about love and grace, I would recommend you click this link and read the post. Here’s a taste:
I sit back a little stunned. I want to argue but can’t find anything that counters the simplicity and elegance of Papa’s words. “Okay, I think I get what you’re telling me; that we aren’t very good at loving, but a lot better at defending our turf.”
“See, another great reason for mystery. The ambiguity of belief, of doctrine, reveals the motives and the dark places of the heart…the places that need to be healed. Religious self righteousness and intellectual snobbery are kissing cousins. Intelligence was never created as a justification for the absence of kindness and respect and love. Do you remember the community of faith at Ephesus. I wrote a letter to them in which I commended their ‘orthodoxy’, that they wouldn’t put up with the Nicolaitans…”“Yeah,” I interrupt, “I have been meaning to ask about them…”
“Not important right now, “ she cuts me off and continues. “The point is that they were all about theology and doctrine, but I removed their light, their influence, their very life; not because of doctrine but because they no longer knew how to express the love who is Truth that indwelt them. Ambiguity and mystery constantly raise real questions. In the face of uncertainty and differences of idea and belief, will we stop loving? Will I descend to the acquisition and defense of territory and turf? Will I even stop loving my enemy, let alone my brother or my sister?”“How come I haven’t understood this?” I shake my head.
“Like you stated yourself, it is because love doesn’t come naturally to you. The closest you have is how you love your own children but even that is only a reflection of what love truly is. Turf and territory have always been about independence, while love is only present in dependence.”
We are silent for a few minutes while I try to organize the jumble of thoughts crashing around inside my paradigm. Papa, aware of my struggle, speaks first.
“Not everything is ambiguous or a mystery. There is much that is clear and evident. I even wrote it down for you. Very clear, very unambiguous. It is all over the scriptures. Start with I Corinthians 13…clear as the nose on your face. The question is why have you turned the clarity of love into something ambiguous?” (William Young)
I have written a little here about the fantastic book simply called The Shack. I know many people are really uptight about some of the things in the book–choosing instead to miss the message of God’s grace than embrace it.
Well, a little research at a couple of my favorite blogs has given me some more to think about on this subject.
First, Tim over at CRN.Info and Analysis has a short post with several links. Writes Tim,
There’s this little book called the Shack that has gotten some people all hot and bothered. If you’re interested in truth rather than rhetoric you might want to amble on over to Steve Brown Etc and listen to the author himself.
Second, Michael over at internetmonk also has a post today. Writes Michael,
Absolutely amazing story, with the beauty of the Gospel everywhere. That a bunch of the TR community will hate on this book because, as Steve says, their underwear is too tight, is a real shame. Those of you who read and thought, “I am reading a journey inside someone’s own experience of The Great Sadness,” will be doubly rewarded.
The monk also includes several links including one back to the author’s homepage.
Third, IM also has this post featuring a 7:45 minute youtube video of Mars Hills’ Mark Driscoll. In the video, Driscoll demonstrates his complete misunderstanding of the point of the book all for the sake of making his points; his cheaply made points. The debate on this post is whether or not Driscoll actually read the book. After watching the video, I’m not so certain.
To be sure, the book is not about the Trinity as such. The book is about working through The Great Sadness. It is a book about God redeems suffering and violence and evil. It is a book about God’s grace. Spencer notes, in a response to his own post:
There is also a literary device in the story that leaves open the possibility that the whole experience was a vision or hallucination, or at the least, not a “real world” experience.
The three characters in the book are not intended to be a true exposition of the nature of the Trinity as much as an experience by which the Trintarian God speaks to Mack. Burning Bush? Remember?
Remember that Wisdom also appears as a character, and does someone believe that Young was suggested wisdom was actually a woman?
I agree. The entire conversation at internetmonk is helpful, but perhaps the links back to the author William Young’s own web pages. It might be important to read and hear what the author himself has to say about the book and its contents.
I’m done blogging for today. Now I would like to go read for a while and watch the last 15 minutes of the Simpsons (that other avenue of heresy in the world of pop-culture.)
Way to Go
Good luck in the Stanley Cup
I have just finished reading this book Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort The Gospels, by Craig A Evans, distinguished professor of New Testament and director of the graduate program at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
The hardback copy I have from IVP (2006) contains 290 pages. These 290 pages are divided into 11 chapters, 2 appendices, a glossary, abbreviations, end notes, recommended reading, and four indices. Also included is a preface, introduction, and three pages of advanced praise for the book. The print is nice and easily readable. Contained within the main writing are several charts and excursions highlighted with a grey background and enclosed in a separate box. These are helpful, sometimes giving more detail of something contained in the text itself; sometimes merely repeating what is in the text in chart form. They are helpful and not intrusive and I believe they can be overlooked, if you choose, without losing any of the meat of the book.
Evans is a competant scholar who has written extensively on matters of the New Testament. He has an impressive resume in this respect. He is no slouch when it comes to understanding the issues he writes of in this book, exposing them as fraudulent and lies, and detailing the faulty foundations upon which semi-scholars have constructed them. I appreciated this book because he was not afraid to name names and to point out the absurdity of those who claim to be authorities in matters which they are clearly not authorities (i.e., Dan Brown): “The success of The Da Vinci Codesays more about the gullibility of modern society than it does about Dan Brown’s skills” (204). I also appreciated that Evans was not afraid to use a little humor and sarcasm to point out the fictional nature of some claims: “Beam me up, Scotty.” (204) But even more than these, I appreciated the depth and breadth of the literature he examines from popular fiction to historical treatises, ancient to modern. I think it is to his credit that even though the book is written “on the popular level and is primarily intended for nonexperts” (14) he assumes the competence of the reader to understand sometimes difficult subject matter, and is not afraid to drag us through it to prove his point. (His discussions of Josephus, for example, are most helpful.)
I don’t like the cover. I have to mention this because I’m not a big fan of any likenesses of Jesus. I would just as soon he put a picture of Dan Brown or JD Crossan or Elain Pagels or Homer Simpson on the cover than the pseudo picture of Jesus currently there. It is somewhat ironic that a book concerned with exposing the fallacies of modern scholars’ distortions of Jesus has, on the cover, a rather ridiculous portrait of Jesus. But that’s just me.
In the book he deals with the likes John Dominic Crossan, Dan Brown, Robert Funk, James Robinson, Robert Price and Bart Ehrman right from the start and interracts with their work throughout. It is thrilling to see someone put Crossan and Brown, for example, in the same book, in the same camp, and for the same reasons: Crossan for his intellectual, scholarly deconstruction of Jesus and Brown for his fictional, popular deconstruction of Jesus. When it all boils down: they are they doing the same thing which is Evans’ point. What is frightening is how many people take the work of folks like Dan Brown and simply assume the historical validity of his conclusions without doing investigation on their own. In this book, Evans tears apart the foundation upon which Brown’s conclusions are built and exposes the apostate, pseudo-scholarship that underlies it. (Brown’s work, for example, is based on a ‘scholarly’ and well documented hoax and forgery.)
At the core of the attacks on the historicity and veracity of the canonical Scriptures is an attack on the person of Jesus himself. Why does this matter? Well, for example, if Jesus is ‘attacked’ in such a way and is purported to be anything less or something other than what the canonical Gospels report, then Christianity as a whole is at risk. This is why it is the Scripture that is always first to be attacked. What is amazing to me is that certain scholars find non-canonical documents such as The Gospel of Thomas more reliable than those historically accepted as canonical such as the document we call Matthew. But don’t they have to do just that in order for their portraits of Jesus to stand up? Seriously, when any document in existence is given equal weight with the canonical Gospels, then literally any portrait of Jesus can be conjured up from the ashes, which is exactly what has happened. From Crossan to Pagals to Brown: All have different portraits of Jesus based on their favorite non-canonical ‘gospels.’ This is why I believe that their ‘research’ is really, ultimately about undermining Christian faith altogether. It is about an unwillingness to submit to the authority of the Gospel. It is insidious, really. What other reason could there be for such activity but to distort and throw into confusion those who accept the Gospel story found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
I like the subtitle: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I like it because it warns the reader of what most readers suspect already: the real danger to the Christian faith are the learned ones who think that by their gnosis they are somehow superior to those who accept the faith once delivered, the simple, Biblical faith. And most of what Evans uncovers can go by the simple term: Gnosticism. This is the basis for most of the popular, avant-garde crap that is published under the guise of ‘Jesus Research’ today. Evans rightly calls this ‘radical and pseudo-scholarship.’ (222) I probably couldn’t agree more. The so-called work done by such folks has, in my opinion, nothing to do with uncovering or discovering the ‘real Jesus’ and everything to do with deconstructing the canonical Gospels. But to the point: We are already in possession of a portrait of the real Jesus in the Gospels. Part of Evans’ objective in this book is to lay waste to the notion that the New Testament cannot be trusted. To this end, he writes:
In my view, even though the Gospels are written from a perspective of faith in Jesus, they are reliable. Faith and truthful history are not necessarily at odds. Criteria of authenticity, which are remarkably vigorous in their application to the Gospels, confirm the essential core of Jesus’ teaching. It is not necessary to claim that the Gospels are inerrant, though for theological reasons many Christians accept them as such, and that every saying and deed attributed to Jesus is true to history. But claims that the Gospels are unreliable, full of myth and legend, and so biased that knowledge of what Jesus really said and did cannot be uncovered are excessive and unwarranted…[T]here is every reason, then, to conclude (again, without invoking theological dogmas) that the Gospels have fairly and accurately reported the essential elements of Jesus’ teaching, life, death and resurrection.” (234)
Another important aspect of this book is the uncovering of the pathetic level of understanding and competence of Scripture among Christians in today’s church. (Perhaps I might also add the significant lack of trust in the Gospels too.) The reason so many people are duped by folks like Brown and Harpur and Baigent is because they have not themselves studied and learned. “Some of these ideas are not well understood even by professing Christians, and they should be. If they are not understood, then writers of hokum history and bad theology will continue to prey on the naive and the credulous.” (222) In other words: Christians are the very ones creating the market for the Dan Browns and Margaret Starbird’s of the world. This is troubling for a number of reasons not least of which is the fact that such books actually get written, get published, are purchased, and read and thus is perpetuated the mythologies of said books. The end result is that faith is undermined because that which is authoritative in faith formation is undermined, namely, the Scripture. Furthermore, false gospels are perpetuated and these false gospels end up becoming the sort of gospels that Jesus warned about in Matthew 24 for example: “What out that no one deceives you for many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he.'”
I don’t think that our current situation is any worse than at any other time in history. I am not, after all, claiming that somehow folks like Dan Brown have cornered the market on tabloid-like reporting and writing about Jesus. There have always been heretics and heretics have always rightly been rebuked by the faithful and by the Scriptures themselves. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about the nature of Biblical understanding, or lack thereof, among the folks of the church. There is so much emphasis today on the so-called practical side of Bible teaching that in many instances sound, biblical theology is simply avoided as too complex or even unecessary. This is why Jesus warned us to pay close attention. This is what Peter warned us of in his letter–that is, of people who ‘make up stories’:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”
Peter and the others were not duped by fancy stories. They were eyewitnesses of His glory and this is the story they have saved for us. This is also what the author of the Hebrews warned us of too:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
The most important aspect of the book is that Evans continually draws our attention back to the canonical Gospels and reasserts their validity, authority and necessity for shaping faith in Jesus Christ. He continually brings us back and says: “These Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are our main source for understanding the historical Jesus. They are trustworthy documents, and we can have confidence in them.” Thus, while certain other documents may lend us helpful or important information they are not vital for Christian faith and lend us nothing more than what is satisfied in the canonical gospels. In other words, as fascinating as The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of Judas or The Gospel of Mary may be, Christianity will not be less if those documents did not exist. Writes Evans:
The true story of the historical Jesus is exciting and inspiring. The true story may well be an old story, but it is far more compelling than the newer, radical, minimalist, revisionist, obscurantist and faddish versions of the Jesus story that have been put forward in recent years. Ongoing archaeology and ongoing discovery and study of ancient documents will continue to shed light on this old story. These discoveries may require and adjustment here and there. But thus far these discoveries have tended to confirm the reliability of the Gospels and disprove novel theories. I suspect that ongoing honest, competent research will do more of the same.” (235)
I do not agree with every single conclusion that Evans makes. For example, his thoughts (see above) about the inerrancy of the Gospels is, to me, a bit disturbing and I cannot imagine what events in the life of Jesus may not be ‘true to history.’ I don’t know if Evans is stating this as a fact of his personal conviction or as a concession to those who may have issues with certain aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. On the contrary, I think it does matter whether or not everything written in the Gospels is ‘true to history,’ but Evans is clear on this point earlier in the book when he cites three specific instances where ‘textual problems’ exist in the canonical gospels (the ‘longer’ ending of Mark, 16:9-20; the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ prayer in the garden in Luke 22:41-45). Evans contends that these stories can be removed from the gospels and that no significant doctrines would be lost, but this assumes, I think, that these stories do not add anything significant to the Gospel. In my judgment, this is somewhat misguided. If the credibility of the Gospels does not hinge on these stories exclusion then I contend that neither is its credibility damanged by their inclusion. My point is that the above sentence may be confusing to some readers and I wished that it was clarified just a wee bit. It is important, in my estimation, what we believe about the nature of the Scripture, but I have contended for this point elsewhere on my blog and will not rehash it here.
I think you will enjoy this book and I think you will benefit from it greatly. It gives the reader easy, point by point explanations of the places where ‘modern scholars’ go wrong and why they go wrong. He interacts with the historical documents well and explains them sufficiently to the lay person. You would do well to have a copy of this book handy when talking with your friends who are skeptical of the Gospels’ claims about Jesus. Also, this will be a handy volume to strengthen your own faith walk by reinforcing what you believe in your heart about the Scriptures that have been passed on to us from generation to generation: They are trustworthy.
I will say this in conclusion. Evans documents a mountain of theories and portraits. The scope of literature he surveys is daunting to say the least. However, all this ‘hokum history’ and all the ‘bogus findings’ surveyed and reported will come and go with each passing generation. They will take new shapes, new forms, and be reported in different ways by different people. There will be new ways of interpreting ‘evidence’ and manuscripts, and, I suppose, people will continue digging in the dirt of ancient lands in hopes of uncovering some new scrap of pottery or piece of papyrus that will prove or disprove the canonical gospels. Such things will always be happening and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening. But it is all so much dust in the wind and will, like the fading flower men who go to the effort, wither away in the sun. The Word of God, however, will remain; and it must. Here is our confidence.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–For related help, pick up a copy of Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, IVP (2nd Ed), 2008.
Day 6, Colossians 1:6: The Efficacy of the Word
“…that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
“Paul describes the effect of Epaphras’ preaching in Colosse in terms not of an emotional reaction, nor even of people ‘accepting Christ into their hearts,’ but of hearing truth and understanding it. The task of the apostolic herald is to announce truth: the word here translated ‘understood’ indicates that the response sought is an intelligent thinking through and recognition of that truth.”—54 (N.T. Wright)
It was the Word of truth, the Gospel, that had come among the Colossians. This is significant for a number of reasons, but I think it also raises a number of questions. Foremost among these questions is this: Is the Colossian response to the preached Word a paradigm of what should happen when the Gospel is preached among people? A sub-question might be, what is the point of preaching: Intellectual response or emotional response? Are the two responses mutually exclusive? Is the Colossians’ response the norm from which other responses are the exception? Just how much credit, so to speak, should we give the Word of God when it comes to conversion?
Whatever we may say, the apostle seems to be convinced that it was the Word of truth that opened the eyes of the Colossian pagans and brought them into the riches of God’s plan for their salvation. The apostle takes no credit, and barely gives Epaphras credit. The credit belongs to the Word of God. The Word has the remarkable power to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and soften the hardest of hearts. Yet it is the Word that is often neglected, supplanted, or misused. (A question I might ask in this regard is this: must the word be preached in a specific way in order for it to do its work or will any old method or manner accomplish the task? If we agree that the Word is effective, how must it be preached in order for it to be effective?)
“The addition of ‘in truth’ reinforces the overtones of 1:5 that their encounter with the gospel was an opening of their eyes and lives to reality, what actually is God’s purpose for humankind, a purpose of grace, with the further implication that this truth first learned thus should continue to be the touchstone of their ongoing discipleship.”—63 (Dunn)
Truth it seems requires an intellectual response and it requires an ongoing conversation. The Word of truth becomes the touchstone of our ongoing discipleship. We continue to return to the truth even as we never stray far from it. But Paul is also making, I think, more than a statement about our dependence on the Word of God. He is making a statement about the efficacy of the Word itself. The Colossians will continue to grow in the grace of God as long as they continue in the Word. The Word has not stopped growing among them since the day they heard of it. Again, here is an important point often missed in our modern hurry to provoke people’s emotions: We simply lack confidence that the Word of God will do its work.
James Dunn makes sense of the present tense participle with the preposition: “The opening phrase could be translated ‘which is present among you,’ recognizing the force of the present tense. But in this case it can also mean ‘which has come to you,’ (and so is present among you). And that makes better sense of the preposition, which most naturally has the meaning ‘to or into’.” (61; so, see Acts 6:7 for the Word grew).
How important is it then that the Word of God be among us? What matters among us: that the Word Grows. What is primary about us: That the Word produces fruit. So what needs to be among us: The Word.
We cannot, we must not, we dare not try to produce the sort of fruit among ourselves that is not derived from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that bears fruit among us so we are right to ask: “If there is fruit among us, is it fruit from the Word?” Knowing what we know, would we want fruit that is not of the Word? And if the Word is not among us, then what of the fruit that is being produced? But note also the power of the Gospel of truth, of Grace: Its effects are not only local (small) but they are worldwide (‘all the world’; large). In other words, the Word of God is big enough for the world, and small enough for the local congregation. The Word will do its work in any setting, in any context. Our responsibility is to trust the Word enough to let it do it’s work whether that work is to cause stumbling or bring salvation.
I fully understand the way of things: We want results. We are ‘now’ sort of people. Still I cannot help but believe that we are too easily sated with cheap imitations in the church. I cannot help but believe that are far less convinced of the power of the Word than God is. The Lord is quite content with the foolishness of preaching of his Word. Why we are less convinced will continue to be the mystery.
Finally, it cannot be a mere coincidence that what Paul writes about is the grace of God. They understood God’s grace from the preaching of truth. This must have been the content of Epaphras’ teaching of truth: God’s grace. I’m speculating here, but I wonder how much more the Word would be among us, grow among us, if the content of our message of truth was God’s grace? This word of Grace has continued efficacy among those who hear it: From the day we hear it this grace will be our hope.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Amazingly, this story originated in, where else, Darwin, Australia! I guess we can safely say that…well…I guess I don’t know what to say. Still, it’s a funny story:
Australian scientists are trying to crack the mystery of how a tiny lizard found its way inside a chicken’s egg.
“The lizard could not have entered the egg after it was cracked open because it was embedded between the interior of the shell and the egg’s membrane, he said.”
Actually, the story has nothing to do with evolution, but it is somewhat ironic that scientists have to ‘crack’ the case. Probably, this will cost some university a million or so dollars. Good luck!
Here’s a thought from someone you might not guess. Take your best shot:
Our kindness ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of life, for here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his devices to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness…, spurn the fellowship of all people in whom they see that something human still remains…For seeing that among those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit of life is not in accordance with its doctrine, they at once conclude that no church exists there…But in this those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set a boundary to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity.”
I think you will be surprised by the answer and it is probably not who you think it is. Please take a minute and guess the author of this most outstanding observation.
On the page ‘Grace’ I have posted the print version of a sermon I preached in February called “Grace as Undeserved Love.” This is the audio of that sermon I preached on February 17, 2008 at the Painesville Church of Christ in Painesville, Ohio. The congregation is going through some tough times and recently endured a split. All the preachers (3), a significant portion of the congregation, and most of their leadership left to form their own congregation. I was invited to preach. The congregation I serve is a daughter of the Painesville Church so it was a great honor to be invited to preach there. This sermon takes about 38 minutes. God bless.
Soli Deo Gloria!